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Three EU Myths About Snacks

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

In this blog post series, we delve into some of the most interesting, weird, funny and persistent myths about the EU. This time we are looking into snacks. Europeans love a good snack. So why does the EU keep trying to get rid of our favourite treats? Or does it?

1. Cake competitions: the proof of the pudding is in the eating

With the rising popularity of amateur baking competitions both on TV and IRL across Europe, it would surely be bad news if the EU were to ban us from actually eating these wonderfully baked goods. How else will we determine if those lemony tarts suffer from soggy bottoms?

The origin of the myth lies in a news item from back in 2008 when Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes informed contestants that cakes entered in a baking competition could not actually be consumed due to ‘new EU regulations’. While 2006 EU food hygiene legislation did indeed cover food businesses, it did not prevent consumption of goods at events such as baking competitions where food is prepared only occasionally. This is good news for the inner Mary Berry in all of us!

2. The great war on the British prawn cocktail crisp

The UK has provided a particularly fruitful base for bad press about EU food safety standards. The pinnacle of this treasured national tradition is perhaps, in the delicate words of Boris Johnson, ‘the great war against the British prawn cocktail flavour crisp’. Except there was never really a war against this much-loved crisp, not even as much as a small-scale targeted attack against the crispy 1980s treat.

While Johnson cited the ban on the seafood crisps as yet another ‘comical’ example of EU legislation, the UK government simply failed to submit prawn cocktail flavour for a list of flavourings and sweeteners to the EU. You will be pleased to know that the error was corrected and the favourite flavour of Britons between the age of 18 and 24 – aka generation ‘prawn cocktail’ - survived the snack war.

3. Favourite frites: a crime against the people of Belgium

The European continent unites in its love for crisply fried pieces of potato. Regardless of whether you call them chips, frites, patatas fritas, or hranolky, and prefer to eat them with ketchup, mayonnaise or vinegar, Europeans surely love a crispy chip. So it came as a shock to many to read that the EU aimed at eradicating our favourite crispy snack. The Guardian reported on a crime against the people of Belgium as EU legislation put the national craftsmanship of perfecting the flavour and crispiness of Belgian frites at risk.

The piece of legislation in question - regulation 2017/2158 - limits the amount of acrylamide a food item can contain. Acrylamide is a chemical that naturally occurs when starchy foods are baked or fried at a hot temperature, and is linked to cancer in animals and therefore described as a public health concern.

Voluntary efforts to reduce the amount of acrylamide in industrially produced foods have been around for years. While the 2017 regulation strives to lower the amount of acrylamide, the number of food items that are above the non-binding threshold is estimated to be between 10% and 15%. In addition, the regulation allows chip shops to produce the chips as they please, as long as they are not too dark and fried below 175°C. So there is indeed EU legislation covering the frying temperature of chips, the good news is a large majority of chips in Belgium already comply with the new norm and still remain to be crispy.

This blog post is part of a series on EU myths.

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